Monday, January 31, 2022

Wonderings--January 31

Last night just before midnight my iPhone chirped on the bedside table. Startled I reached for and knew instinctively who was on the other end. A picture of my now 20-year-old son was displayed on the screen. I saw JonMark sitting next to Autumn at dinner that we shared together before Christmas when they came for a visit. 

JonMark knows that he can call either Jennifer or myself late at night when he is tired and driving home from work. His shift at Sherwood Oaks ends at 11:30pm. Then he packs up his things, walks to his car, and prepares to head home. 

When the snow and ice come, as they did a week ago, he calls more regularly because we can help calm his anxious heart during the drive home. In good weather that drive takes him about 40 minutes. On snowy nights we talk for nearly 90 minutes. . . Of course, Jennifer and I don't mind the call. It feels nice to be needed by a young man who is growing and spreading his wings out as he confronts the "big bad world."

So I grabbed my phone and quietly said, 'hey bud' as I walked out of the bedroom as quietly as possible. Jennifer stirred a bit but fell back to sleep. The dogs didn't even notice me. 

I took up a place on the couch as my eyes tried to focus and drive the sleep away. I struggled to say anything meaningful at first as I could hardly get a sentence out as I spoke without a yawn. But then the two of us fell into our routine of conversations. . . 

We talked about the cold (it as only 1 degree there and he was very cold). 

We talked about military stuff. . . Books I was reading. Books he read. Things he recommended. 

I heard about his work night and how some residents that I didn't know were doing.

He shared with me how his semester was shaping up. He was confident but still tired. 

The 40 minutes flew by and I didn't even realize that time elapsed until he said, "well I'm home and am going into the building now." We said good-bye and I returned to bed to sleep the rest of the night away. But the experience made we think about my prayer life. 

I wondered why I, or perhaps why you, can make the conversational nature of prayer so challenging? There are plenty of times when I bow my head and can't think of anything to say to God. While I don't yawn, I do 'small talk' my way around God. Justifications as to what I should say and what I shouldn't flutter around my mind--perhaps around yours as well. 

But remember how I talked with JonMark. . . It was easy and it wasn't forced. We just talked and as we did I felt my heart come alive. I miss the times of talking to him and relish the chance for the next one--even if that next one comes when I would rather be sleeping. 

I wonder if today, you might engage God in the same prayerful conversation? What might happen as you just begin. . .


Rev. Derek

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Wonderings--January 27

This morning I had a hard time bowing my head to God, and I bet that you have had the same trouble from time to time in your life with Christ. . . I bet you have had mornings like mine before and if you have, perhaps together we can see a solution in a familiar prayer. 

If I was going to offer a defining word or trait for this week as a whole it would be: new possibilities. 

Every day this week I have been presented with new ideas, new possibilities, new dreams from God as I listen and dwell with people of my community. When that happens, whether it is in the church or not, our minds begin to attack the 'dreams' as a way to give them life. We seek ways to make those dreams or possibilities part of our ministry moving forward. 

New calls are made. New emails sent in anticipation. Connections are made and reinforced; build one upon another. It's all so exciting and revelatory. Breakfast stops being the morning meal that sets up the day and becomes a time of brainstorming and vision where we can't get that 'new thing' out of our heads. 

And yet, God asks that we find space to sit, dwell, and be with Him. . . But our minds our racing, our hearts are lifted, buoyed, by the new thing that God is doing in us or around us to such a degree that we might be tempted to put aside our prayer time so we can attack the task at hand. If we are that excited we might find it a challenge to draw close to God and pray. . . 

As I thought about how I/we find space to pray when God is exciting us with new ideas and new work, I found the following concept presented to me. I invite you to sit with these words as you recognize the discussion of the Lord's Prayer: 

" “Give us today our daily bread.” In other words, help us live in the present tense. Let us not be so burdened by guilt or scarred by hurt that we live in the past, and let us not be so anxious about the unknown or driven by a particular goal that we become prisoners of the future. Give us enough, says the prayer. Don’t give us so much that we don’t know sensibly what to do with it or so little that we can’t see past our own need. Make us attentive, alert, present. Whenever you see a person who’s so sleepy or so angry they can’t hold your gaze you see a person who can’t stay in the present because they’re overwhelmed by the past. Whenever you see a person who can’t hold your gaze because they’re fumbling for their cell phone or fiddling with their appearance you see a person who can’t stay in the present because they’re distracted by the future. “Give us.” That’s a request to be given the grace to live in the present."

As I finished reading those words I closed my eyes and felt that familiar twinge in my mind. It was the familiar presence of God smiling at the good things that He is doing in my life. I bet that same joy can spring up in you as you reflect on the "Give us" phrase. . . I wonder what the feeling from God might look like and how it might shape the rest of your week? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Wonderings--January 26

Rusty George in his book, Better Together: Discover the Power of Community, tells the following story: 

"We headed into the drive-through line. As we waited, I began asking for orders. . . The order was locked and loaded when I pulled up to the speaker. "Welcome to Wendy's. May I take your order?" a young voice said. "Yes, I'd like two orders of chicken nuggets. . ." at which point I was interrupted. 

"You said a chicken sandwich?"

"No, two chicken nuggets," 

"Two chicken sandwiches?" I smiled at my family trying to be patient. I thought I would mix it up to help him out.

"Let's go with two fries, a chicken salad, a chili, and two orders of chicken nuggets."

"Would you like the comb meal with the chicken sandwiches?" he queried. 

"No," I said, "It's two chicken nuggets.

"Oh, okay, chicken nuggets." It was at this point that my six-year-old yelled out from the back seat loud enough for the speaker to pick up, "What to go, genius!" 

Now that's an experience many of us have been through. Perhaps we have even joined the six-year-old in disgust because let's face it, the person behind the speaker might an 'idiot.' Now I am using this term gently because Rusty places it at the center of his argument. . . .Let's follow Rusty's thought-line and see where it takes us. . . 

He continues in the rest of the chapter talking about how everyone is an idiot but me. And if they are all idiots in our community, and I am not, that creates a relational-divide. It creates an us/them dichotomy. Defining someone else negatively is an isolating practice. If they are all idiots, and if I am not, then I am the only person who I can rely upon throughout my day. I have the answers that the foolish, idiot, does not. 

Can we see how separating this thought can be. But if we follow the line of thought to its natural conclusion then we join Rusty in worrying about the future of evangelism and the church: 

"When we are left with questions about how to deal with our depression, handle our addiction, resolve our marriage tension, or help our kids with their anger, we wonder, What good can anyone else do? I'll just figure this out on my own. After all, everyone is an idiot."

And now we see how serious this can be. The young man in our story was just not hearing everything correctly. The child did not need to jump down his throat (and the parents did step in properly). But often times the temptation arises to join in with the community in labelling others as 'idiots.' 

I wonder what might happen if empathized more, listened more, and sough out the 'other person' for help and their presence? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Wonderings--January 25

I want to share a story that I read that was originally printed in Christian Century

"Some time ago I was approached by a man I’d never met before. I quickly realized that he was frightened. His voice quavered; he was reluctant to hold my gaze. He had in his hand a box, and it was clear that whatever was inside the box was very precious to him. He had a strong accent, and I struggled at first to understand what he was saying. Gradually I learned why he was so scared. 

He told me that he came from a country where democracy was unknown and the rule of law was a joke, where being opposed to the regime was a dangerous thing to be. He had observed many ways in which the government oppressed its people, and he’d compiled a dossier which had got him into trouble. I could almost feel him looking over his shoulder during the conversation.

Eventually I asked him what was in the box. 

With gentle hands, entrusting something very precious to me, he handed it to me. Inside was a small animal. By this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if it were alive. But it turned out to be a toy, to which he’d given it his own name, because he identified with its vulnerability and tenderness. He wanted me to keep the box, and the creature inside it, so that a part of his heart could be safe with me even if the rest of him was in danger in his home country. I said the only words he wanted me to say: 

“Leave it with me.” 

I still have that box. I keep it in the safest that place I know."

This pandemic has altered our lives--and it continues to do so nearly 2 years on. It has caused us to remember and affirm that what we see with our eyes and lives out in the community is not what we will see forever. As we confront the pandemic we remember that God is still with us and we will be with God someday. . . Covid, all the baggage and all struggles that it has brought upon us, won’t last forever. The truth of our lives is hidden with Christ in God and He will be there for us always. He is the one who accompanies us through our days and into the uncertainty that we face.  

As I finish the story that I began above, my mind begins to ask questions. Each question designed to fill in the remainder of the story. 

What became of the frightened man? 

Is he still in danger because he returned? What about his family?  

Is he alive or dead? 

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I can, and we should, join the story-teller. “Leave it with me.” These might be the best words that we can offer when the burdens of another person are placed before us and the tension is so high. 

“Leave it with me” because God is still present whether we are afraid or anxious, whether our fears rule our hearts or we find ourselves steeled by faith. Those words become the words of Jesus when we bow our hearts and silence our minds. “Leave it with me.” 


Rev. Derek

Monday, January 24, 2022

Wonderings--January 24

So how do we know what we claim to know? And further, how do we, or how could we, break that model as we work toward faithfulness in God's kingdom? 

This is probably not the first time that you've heard a question of this type. I bet when confronted by this idea you sat back in your chair, gazed out at nothing in particular across the room, and engaged in the philosophical debate with yourself. 

I've been thinking about this question all morning based on something that I read. 

In the introduction of Daniel Kahneman's new book, Thinking Fast and Slow, he tells the story of daily walks that he took with a colleague and friend Amos. The two loved the walks and spend the long hours together thinking and reflecting on their combined research and theory. On one such walk, they created the following experiment. As you read it, I would like you to engage in with me: 

"An individual has been described by a neighbor as follows: "Frank is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with a little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail." Is Frank more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?"

Now as. you re-read this challenge, I wonder if you can offer up an answer? 

As you offer your answer to the question, perhaps you brought your own person feelings, thoughts, and biases into the conversation? Perhaps you wondered about a particular 'meek and tidy person' who has 'a need for order and structure' into your mind and that helped inform you as to whether Frank could be a librarian or a farmer? 

But let's go back to Amos and Daniel on one of their long walks. . . . 

As they walked together and talked out the problem, they added some details to Frank's biography. For instance they offered the following statistic: Did you know that there are 20 male farmers for every one male librarian in the US? Because there are so many more males on a tractor who could identify as 'meek and tidy' we might not find them at help desks in a library. . . 

The whole experiment got me thinking--as I imagine you are doing right now. 

Perhaps we bring certain biases into our conversations with the people of our local community. And perhaps as we do so, we limit what might be possible in their lives? I imagine that this is done subconsciously, but as we project Amos and Daniel's thoughts out into the world of outreach and evangelism, we might begin to see that God is asking us to conceive of things differently. . . or dream bigger. 

Maybe God wants us to look out further and stop limiting what we think the outcome of our evangelism and outreach might be?

Rev. Derek

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Wonderings--January 20

Sitting with my Bible open today, I find my heart in two places. 

The first place is simple "with" God. My morning devotions involved reading a couple Old Testament passages from Nehemiah. I sit with that text now. I noticed where my attention rested and prayerfully approached God about what I was reading and considering. As I listened to the gentle rain falling and heard the heater in my office hum, I closed my eyes and continued to read. This first place that I find my heart in could best be described as Communion with God. 

But there is also a second place. . . 

The second place my heart finds itself in is the world. Today I have read the news from a couple sources that I find to be reputable. I sigh as I read it. . . I think about how the Omicron variant has again altered our worship and communal practices. I purse my lips as I think about how long it has been since worship felt 'normal' (whatever 'normal' actually is). I think of how last night I saw a church family who I have not seen for two weeks because of a positive covid diagnosis and how much joy my heart felt in seeing them again. The second place that I find my heart I describe as conflicted. 

Maybe today you understand those two places and perhaps have been there yourself. Perhaps you are still struggling to name that which causes this dichotomy in your heart to surface. 

Author and speaker Jeffery Olsen offered me some help today with this conflict in my heart. He wrote: 

"I used to believe [that] God was testing me in some way and wanted me to prove my faith somehow. I have come to a deeper truth; God isn't testing me at all. God knows me perfectly. It was me who didn't know myself. We come from perfect love, and we will return to it someday, but for now, we love imperfectly, beautifully flawed in this lower dimension. Yet our skinned knees and scraped palms are not signs of shame, but rather badges of courage for having come to play the game. We are beautiful in our brokenness and perfect in the chaos regardless of the judgments we may put on it. Each moment is sacred. Each moment is a gift. Life is not a test. It is a gift.
"Every little thing is of the light; there is divine order in every single experience and every soul who crosses my path. Everything in my existence has a gift for me. Otherwise it would not be so. Being open to that divine gift in each moment is what brings life profound meaning."

I wonder if we can find our own 'profound meaning' in the place where our social suffering meets with God's perfect presence? I wonder what that might look like for the church? And for you?

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Wonderings--January 19

Yesterday while watching a Zoom talk on how to nurture spiritual health, the following story was shared. As I share the story with you, I invite you reflect upon it. . . 

Our story is about a woman who we will call Clair. Throughout her life, Clair worked in many secular fields and was happy. With a keen intellect and a suspicious heart, Clair and her husband made a great life for themselves in the world. Eventually they had children, and as is often the case, those children were the reason the family returned to church. 

But for Clair there was a problem. . .

Even though worship space was beautiful, and the preaching engaged the mind, and the music and singing were well-planned and supported the service well, and even if the church had ample programming for this young family, Clair could not get past her problem. So she scheduled some time with the pastor. 

Sitting down in the pastor's office the two exchanged pleasantries and small talk before Clair dropped her bombshell on the pastor. She confessed that while she enjoyed the service, and liked the preaching, and said that her children loved the programs at the church, she wasn't sure that God existed. Obviously this created a great conflict in Clair. 

She could see that her family was blessed tremendously by everything that this church offered, and was happy to bring them to church, she just did not know if God existed. So she sought the pastor for help.

Rather than trying to fix her problem, or prove God's existence to Clair, the pastor smiled and asked if she would be willing to do an experiment for 30 days. Shrugging Clair agreed--what did she have to lose? 

The pastor gave her this assignment:

For 30 days spend time talking to God in the morning. Don't worry about whether God exists or not, she was told, just talk to God for 30 days. 

30 days later, Clair scheduled time with the pastor to share her experience. She said that for the first week it felt like she was talking to her imaginary friend--someone wasn't there truly. But she kept at it. Kept talking to God each day, and then something happened. . . but not what you might expect. 

She said that she loved to garden and that was the place where she had those talks with God each morning. After a week or so, Clair noticed that the color of the flowers that she cared for was brighter and more vibrant. The song of nature was richer. All around her, the world seemed to open up in new ways as she talked with this God who didn't exist. 

It was a simple practice--one not based on anything more just showing up and being with God. We are so busy in our days, I wonder what might happen for you, if you took some time today just to have a talk with God? Walk with God? Perhaps God will transform you as well? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Wonderings--January 18

If you have been following along with me since the beginning of this blog you know that I believe in the power and necessity of presence. It is part of how we strive to live faithfully and continually as Christians in a world that rejects us often. I believe strongly that a more effective methodology to engage our community involves leaving behind the transactional mentality of evangelism and instead opting to dwell, to listen, and be present with another person. 

I further believe that this is the way forward for the church as we find our influence and presence in the community diminishing. 

As the church, in a general sense, we are fairly good at showing up when the people of our community are suffering. We know what do to and have been trained well to do it. Recently I received a phone call here in the office that let me know that a member of our larger Christian community has passed away. While death was coming for this family, that knowledge did not help prepare them against the pain. 

Yet without knowing this person, I know that the Church will be present in the life of that family. 

Food will be brought. Prayers offered. Words of condolence and love expressed. Phone calls will become part of the healing balm that God uses to care for His children as they suffer even as covid variants keep us physically separated. 

Then when the time comes for the funeral service I know that members of the Church Universal will gather around that family and offer more than just Christian platitudes; they will offer what they have--the love and presence of Jesus Christ. Freely they will, we will, give what we have away so that the 'other person,' the one who suffers can heal. 

This is what we do and we do it well--for the most part. 

But what about those times in which we are not directly offering care and support during a painful, emotional time? How do we confront them and live faithfully in a world that is so polarizing and so divisive? Again I think the option is right before us if we are willing to seek it and adopt it. Rather than shy away because of what we do not know, or what we cannot fully articulate, can we lean in and communicate the love of God to the other people that we see every day? I wonder what the church might become when we follow this process forward. . . 

Dr. King says it this way: 

"People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other."

We have the presence of Christ. We understand how that presence is manifested in us specifically. I can talk about how Christ is with me to most people because I understand how "Christ being with me" lives in my heart. But that is because I choose to take the time and make the space to listen and be with another person. I wonder today also if God might be asking you to make the same choice? To dwell with another and by dwelling you care for them. . . 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Wonderings--January 13

A winter storm is coming. It is coming toward the Eastern part of the country and, according to reports, this storm is going to dump inches of snow and ice from as far north as New England and as far south toward us here in York.

Last week we gathered for worship with masks in place and with social distancing re-introduced in the sanctuary. A plexiglass sheet met me on the pulpit and it seemed like I was watching myself in my reflection as I led worship. I am not at all complaining about these safety precautions. They are necessary and I a thankful that this church takes covid so seriously as to want to keep everyone safe. I continue to rely on this church to help keep each other safe while still working to live faithfully in God's community. 

But because covid cases rose this past week so dramatically in South Carolina, our in-person worship attendance was down. We had about half of what we normally might have. Again, I know why and I agree with the rational. Yet now with this storm bearing down upon us, I wonder about community. 

Again it seems that we will be separated from one another physically this weekend--this time because of weather as it mixes with covid and creates something that divides us. But as it does I want to offer you the words of Wendell Berry. In his essay "Economies and Pleasure" he gives us these words about community and how community works. He writes 

"Community, however, aspires toward stability. It's strives to balance change with constancy. That is why community life places such high value on neighborly love, marital fidelity, local loyalty, the integrity and continuity of family life, respect for the old, instruction of the young. And vital community draws its life, so far as possible, for the local sources. Prefers to solve his problems, for example, by non-monetary exchanges of help, not by buying things." 

 Like you I strive to 'be' the community for another person. I strive to listen, to pray, to be present and pay attention to the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit as we build community. I seek to notice the mystery that God brings each day to us. But yet, I wonder about how that is being accomplished as we are not able to be close in proximity to one another? 

As I meditate on Berry's words, I find my mind drifting around ways that I can foster 'exchanges of help' in my daily life? 

Perhaps that is the great gift that God is bringing to us in this pending storm? The chance to help other another and by helping we build community in a time of struggle. . . 


Rev. Derek

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Wonderings--January 12

Grrrr.... Today has not gone according to plan, and sadly, I think I know why. 

At 6 AM I awoke to find that God had painted our grass white with a gentle frost--a frost that I knew was coming. It was cold outside, but as I stood in the dark yard with Bianca I decided that it wasn't that cold. So as I got ready for work today, and enjoyed my breakfast, a decision was made. . . While a half-a-pot of coffee was brewing that I planned to take to work today, I would take Luna on a morning walk. She and I both enjoy it very much. 

Checking the temperature outside, I grabbed my vest to help stay warm and said the magic words: "Luna is it time for a walk?" 

She jumped. She ran and cried. Meeting me at the back door she 'got dressed' and we ventured into the cold as I began some worship music on my iPhone. 

But like I said, there was a frost out there; it was cold. As I entered the cemetery for our walk, I could feel my ears were getting cold, my nose started to run a bit. I pulled my hands into the sleeves of my sweater to keep them warm and thought 'this is going to be a cold one.' Luna's breath, and my breath, were both visible as we walked together this morning. 

Returning to the parking lot of the church, Luna was still running around happily. She barked at a family pulling to the CDC across the yard and ran to get the nearest stick for me. Yes her breathing was more labored after walking the first of a planned two laps, but she was still happy and eager. But I was cold. I was really cold. 

So I took her back inside the house. Poured my coffee into the travel Yeti that I use, and went to the church to begin my day. The walk was shorter than planned, but hey, it's cold out there. . . Yet, that shortened walk, that 'thing' that I do each day that helps frame my day and create time for prayer and worship, was cut short by nearly 15 minutes. . . As such, the rest of my day would be off. 

My morning reading never connected with me. My session devotional isn't coming together as I expect. My plans for this evening aren't working well. Even my regular office tasks and emails are taking more time and feeling less productive--and I wonder why? 

Perhaps you have done the same thing recently? Forgone part of your morning plans with the Lord when you should have stayed close to God and listened?

If you have joined me in cutting time with God out, I wonder how you might re-create that time today? 

Rev. Derek 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Wonderings--January 11

All around us we see and witness so many people suffering. . . They suffer from emotional pain, from physical pain. If we listen long and hard enough we might notice that they suffer in silent pain that they think no one understands; no one wants to understand. 

Many of our youth know of the pain that comes from alienation--from society in general and with peer groups in particular. They walk their own path feeling like they cannot escape from the isolation. In a word they feel disconnected and isolated--and that is not what God wants for us. Those who suffer, regardless of age, can struggle to find the point of connection. 

As I walked this morning I thought about this and wondered about the truth of this claim. 

Do we suffer because we have been told by 'those out there' that we are on our own? What role does the covid-19 pandemic play in not only creating this disconnection, but what role does it play in fostering it? Is there a way back to connection and unification with God and in the local church?  

We all know that we are better together. I have not met a person during this covid-19 pandemic who does not affirm that we are better together. They long for that 'togetherness' that comes from being the church who gathers. And yet so many of us do not know how to re-tie ourselves back into the community or into the church. 

As we physically suffer, and as we emotionally suffer, we need something to ground us in a common shared experience. Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff fwrites these helpful words for us as we look around to find how we can be together again: 

"To say 'I believe in God' means that there is Someone who surrounds me, embraces me everywhere, and loves me, Someone who knows me better than I do myself, deep down in my heart, where not even my beloved can reach, Someone who knows the secret of all mysteries and where all roads lead. I am not alone in this open universe with all my questions for which no one offers me a satisfactory answer. That Someone is with me, and exists for me, and I exist for that Someone and in that Someone's presence. Believing I God means saying: there exists an ultimate tenderness, an ultimate bosom, an infinite womb, in which I can take refuge and finally have peace in serenity of love. If that is so, believing in God is worthwhile; it makes us more ourselves and empowers our humanity [and brings us together]."

For all our choices, and all our societal pressures and expectation, and all that we hope will reconnect us with each other, it is often the simplest choices, the most foundational, that help us come together when we suffer and be the Body of Christ. 

Do you feel you suffer? Alone or in public? 

If so, perhaps Boff's words might provide a helpful way to reconnect? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, January 10, 2022

Wonderings--January 10

A number of years ago while I was serving as a hospital chaplain, I found a little book whose title intrigued me. I first read this little book while on duty in the Emergency Room as a chaplain. I would sneak a page or two or three in between cases when I was not needed. 

At that time, the area in which we lived was marred by extreme violence. Per capita it was one of the most violent communities in the country at that time. Gun shot wounds, car and motorcycle accidents, domestic abuse were a constant presence in the ER. I felt like I was often holding the hand of a family member who wondered what this happened to them? "Why was God letting this happen?" they would ask. 

As such, Wayne Oates' book The Revelation of God in Human Suffering was a helpful gift in my spiritual journey. It helped me frame what was happening in my mind so that I could offer support to these families who were in pain.

We know that suffering is often unique to the person because the way that we respond to that suffering is quite personal. For instance, I handle the death of a loved one, or the suffering of a friend, from a certain perspective as a pastor and as a father and husband. Jenifer handles that same incidence from a different perspective. Her perspective involves lived-experiences and how she, as a mother and wife, will address the pain that she witnesses. 

Neither is better than the other; they are just personal to us. And yet in that 'personal-ness' we can find God. Oates says it this way: 

"Faith is not a road map of other people's experience. it is not a gyroscope of self-sufficiency, confidence, and certainty. It is not a radarscope to pick up the commonly agreed [up]on opinions of the group. . . Faith in God is like a seaman's sextant. The sextant keeps a person's direction true when he is out of sight of [the] land or man [or God]."

Faith guides us through suffering. It does not minimize it and it does not 'paper over' the pain that we experience. It doesn't cliche it away. Faith takes the suffering of the moment and reframes it in a way that helps us to see God's hand guiding and supporting us through the moment in ways that we cannot imagine. When we feel that we cannot do this or don't know how to handle what is happening, faith points us toward an unseen God who is guiding us through the rough waters of suffering and pain because of his great love for us. 

As a church we have felt that pain. . . We have watched covid raving our church. We have witnessed the suffering of families who have lost a loved one to death. We have seen the suffering of individuals from our church come and break us down a bit and wonder why is this happening again! 

But today I want to remind you about faith and about God. 

You may respond and address suffering in your own way. You may think that no one else is dealing with this issue or that it's too raw to share with another. But we are in this together as The Body of Christ and our faith will help us find the Land.

I wonder how you might be present for another person who is suffering themselves? 

Rev. Derek 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Wonderings--January 6

Thank God we are fearfully and wonderfully made. . . 

Today I read the words of theologian Kate Bowler as she reflected on the foundations of her life that made her into who she is and who she is becoming in the Lord. I chuckled particular parts of her narrative and enjoyed hearing about "Divine CPR" as she talked about God 'breathing life into our bodies' that first time. His breath literally entering into a place where breath was not and making breath become. Giving us life and presence. 

At the end of the section that I was reading she wrote these words. They echo her point about God creating the foundation of our lives and invite us to see how we are brought together. She writes:  

"Whether it is our parents, our teachers, mentors, friends, churches, or neighbors, people have been pouring into us. We are standing on a foundation. It should come as an incredible relief. Our only job is to build on what we’ve been given, and, even then, even our gifts we can trace back to the creativity, generosity, and foresight of others. Thank God we are a group project."

Finishing her words I leaned back and agreed with her assertion: Thank God that we are a group project. 

Recently life at Bethesda has become a bit more serious. Covid cases are on the rise. Both inside and outside the church we are hearing about more and more families who are dealing with the virus--and people are becoming anxious and fearful. But they are not the only ones who suffer. . . 

Stories and prayer requests have been shared with me about family members, church members, who are sick, in the hospital, or who are now in the loving hands of Hospice. In the midst of these prayers I spent parts of this week sitting with people and reminding them:

"This is the Body of Christ, given for you. . ."

"The cup of Salvation, poured out for you. . . "

In that place there is an interesting thing happening. . . an acknowledgement of the foundation that we stand upon as the church. While suffering may come, and while covid cases rise, and those we love are in the hospital, and as we become more anxious, we are together because we are the church. 

We lean back upon each other. Support each other. We care for each other sacrificially. We hold each other up to God.  

I wonder today if you might know someone who needs to be reminded that we are a 'group project?' A project with a divine, loving, ever-present God who can, and does, take care of us. . . Perhaps give that person a call and remind them that we are better together, better when we come together in prayer, in service, and in love.


Rev. Derek 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Wonderings--January 5

Isn't it strange what we remember? And more than that, isn't it interesting how our memories are triggered? Let me explain. . . 

Today I had the pleasure of taking communion to another member of Bethesda who is unable to worship with us physically right now. Nettie and her daughter welcomed me into their home with open arms and we celebrated the sacrament together. They warmly received me into their world. 

We talked about the church and how we are doing during this covid-time. 

They asked about my history; about my seminary experience and my family. 

We talked about Nettie's health and how beautiful today has been. (It is after all 57 degrees and sunny. . . what a blessing during the winter). 

But throughout our conversation one thing nagged against the back of my brain. One memory kept popping up that made my initial question come to bear: our Maltese, Bella. 

You see this family shares the house with Mollie a white, 8-pound, Maltese. Except for the difference in haircut (we kept Bella trimmed short and they prefer Mollie to be more traditionally cut), these two could be sisters. I smiled as Mollie barked and barked while wagging her tail at me. It was so adorable to see her slowly creep up to me, just as Bella would. After all, we are friends, we just haven't met yet. 

I watched Mollie climb into the laps and lick their hands just as Bella did. While painful to witness, it was also a joyful memory. This experience led me back to my first question about how memories are formed and what triggers them. 

Climbing back into my truck my attention rested on Mollie and Bella. But something was different. Sure I still missed Bella, and I suspect that I always will. But gathering around God's word, with someone else, someone who shares my experience and my perspective was meaningful. 

A couple weeks ago I might have felt too emotional to serve the sacrament, but now, with those memories in my heart, and with a commonality with church friends, something was different. I felt different as I drove back to the church.Yes, I was still silent and meditative, but God felt closer. As I thought about the whole experience I concluded that I must have felt this way because of how someone in the community (in this case, the church community), made me feel less isolated by my pain. 

And so this made me wonder about your faith walk. . . I wonder how you have chosen to be so present to another person that their pain, private as it might be, was healed by the balm of God's love and God's silent presence? I wonder if you might be able to find someone to be present for that could help them deal with their own silent pain? 


Rev. Derek

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Wonderings--January 4

Well after nearly two years I experienced the silence of an early morning and it was both familiar and yet it felt new. 

As I posted on Facebook this morning, Emma headed back to the classroom for the first time in a year and a half. She was up at 6:15 today and quietly roamed the house gathering her necessary school supplies. While she made lunch I could see the hint of a smile come across her face. With coffee in hand, she left the house. 

About a minute later, Jennifer kissed me good-bye, said good-bye to the dogs, and headed for her car. I handed her a cup of coffee as I held the dogs back from joining her in the front seat of her car. Then it was just me and the house felt so large and empty. 

I walked back into the house to see a pair of cute girls sitting at the door wondering why mom and Emma have left today. . . "I mean seriously this is not how our mornings go," they whispered to me. Instead of joining Emma on her bed or couch while she did virtual school work for a nap, they were relegated to their beds. I made a final cup of coffee for the morning and left. 

Closing the door to the house I reached for my AirPods to begin a new podcast as I 'commuted' to work across the parking lot. But as I opened the case, I paused. . . closing it I placed them in my pocket and looked out into our wooded backyard. 

I stood there for a moment when I remembered the spiritual teaching of Jim Finely. He works for the Center for Contemplation and Action and was formerly a student of Thomas Merton. As I share what Jim taught, I wonder if you might find your own space, as I did, to practice it? 

In the silence of the morning, an unfamiliar silence certainly, I sat down on the cold stone step and thought about a bible passage that came to mind. The words were familiar and also foundational for my spiritual walk in times like this. Psalm 46:10.

Jim teaches that we should read the verse by cutting the words apart and allowing space to mediate upon what each word or phrase means for us as guided by the Holy Spirit. It would look something like this: 

"Be still and know that I am God." 
"Be still and know that I am. . . "
"Be still and now. . . "
"Be still. . ."
"Be.. . "

Pausing between praises I sat there in the total stillness of my morning and soaked in the presence of God on a quiet, chilly, silent day. 

We are often in such a hurry. Our lives are so full of noise and presence. What would it look like today to just pause and practice something as simple as what I just outlined? I wonder what God and you might discover? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, January 3, 2022

Wonderings--January 3

Over the last 48 hours the weather and I have something in common. And as I think about it, I wonder if you too share something common with me and with what just happened outside? 

Sunday as we began our worship time together at Bethesda my liturgist, John, stood before the congregation and spoke about how he read that the upcoming weather forecast was going to usher in some 'winter-like' weather. Chuckling he said to me, the recent transplant from Pittsburgh, that the folks here in South Carolina do some crazy stuff when freezing rain comes into our lives. I braced myself for the cold, but I don't know if I was truly ready for it. 

We haven't had a lot of cold as I was accustomed to before my time with Bethesda. It been a bit chilly but nothing a warm sweater won't fix. But the upcoming weather signaled that winter was coming. . . and the rain did come. 

Throughout Sunday evening and into early Monday morning the rain fell hard. The wind blew. Outside large tree limbs fell from the trees and broke into smaller bits that litter my yard. I witnessed some lightening and heard a little clap of thunder. The temperature dropped from 65 to 40 in just a couple hours and as it did my shoulders dropped a bit too. 

Waking up on Monday to take the dogs out I saw that it was still raining. The wind still blew and the water was wet on my face as I petitioned the girls to come back to the house. I quickly walked through the rain to the office and could feel myself getting chilled to the bone. I sighed and said to no one in particular, "I didn't miss this" as I unlocked the church and turned on the lights. 

And the rain kept coming. Now in sheets the rain flooded the parking lot a little. Puddles began to form as large as a car and I could hear the wind whipping through the windows and doors. 

The weather was a beating up the world outside, and by extension I felt a little beaten up by it as well. 

I wonder if you have felt the same way today--beaten and bruised. Covid has been with us so long. I am hearing about more and more friends who have be diagnosed with the virus. I hear stories more consistently of false positives and asymptomatic results. I read emails and answers calls that hint at wishing we could go back to normal but at the same time those calls and emails don't know what normal looks like anymore. 

The storms of life have made us forget just as easily as they have bruised our souls. . . 

But then I looked up. I slid my book away from the front of my desk, and gazed outside. The air is still chilly, it's still January (even in the south), but the rain has ended. . . the clouds are gone. . . those large puddles are drying up and disappearing.  

What started as a feeling of oppression and pressure has lessened and I see the blue and I remember that God is with me. He is with me even when I feel bruised and worn. God is with me when the rains of my life bring more positive tests and more pressure to be evangelistically silent. God will drive the clouds away and we will feel his warmth again. God is with me even when I hurt or when I grieve and feel alone.  

Perhaps you have felt the same way today? Maybe that feeling is with you even as you read these words. If that is the case then I wonder if you can take a step back and notice that God has not given you up. Sure the rains of life came, but so did the promise to never leave and never forsake. 

Maybe even on a rainy day, we can find a reason for hope? 


Rev. Derek

I Wonder--November 29

I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met?  Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart...